Thursday, June 7, 2012

Guest Post: John Mark McDonald

I'd like to introduce a new blogger, John Mark McDonald, an autistic adult who wants to help others with autism, especially adults on the spectrum having difficulty navigating the unstated social rules on the job. This is his first post, but I have no doubt he'll soon have more insightful offerings, so I hope readers will keep a lookout for new posts from him. --Kim

Sensory Issues in Autism

An important thing to remember for people with autism of all ages is sensory stimulation issues. It is well known in the autism community that people with autism can easily be over stimulated by certain things. After that things get a bit fuzzy. I have heard it said that autistic people can be over or under simulated by certain types of stimuli. From my own experience, autistics tend to need a small amount of sensory stimulation of the right type (sensory attraction) and shielding from stimulation of the wrong type (sensory over-stimulation) or overwhelming amounts of stimulation of any type. To make things more confusing, what kind of sensory stimulation is bad and what is good can be different for each autistic person.
Sensory overload can be especially disabling for people with autism. The symptoms of sensory overload vary from person to person. Some of the common effects range from confusion, anxiety, and restlessness to more serious effects like panic attacks, physical pain, physical illness, migraine headaches, paralysis, meltdowns, and breakdowns.
On the other hand, people of autism are well known for "stimming." The most well-known forms of this are repetitive motions or sounds that are used to reassure or entertain themselves. Stimming probably has the worst reputation of all the autistic behaviors because it sets autistic people apart as being "weird, abnormal, or unnatural." This can lead to stimming issues to be treated all out of proportion of their importance, or even worse being treated with fear and revulsion. Yet for people with autism, sensory stimulation can be needed in order for them to be able to function effectively. Therefore, the goal should not be to eliminate sensory stimulation behavior, but to channel it into more appropriate and productive activities.
            Being able to balance sensory issues is critical for any autistic person to be able to function in a "normal" environment. In order to do this, you need to identify what the sensory stimulation issues are for any given autistic person. This is especially difficult on caregivers of nonverbal autistics or autistic children that are too young to talk and analyze their own situation. In this case the only way to figure this out is by observation. Let me give some examples with each sense of both sensory overstimulation and attraction and some possible tools that can be used in either case.
If an autistic person makes noise or screams every time it gets quiet, it may be that they need sound stimulation. Some low background music like classical or ambient could make a great deal of difference. Another idea is fans or other sources of “white noise” to keep things from being “too quiet.”
 On the other hand, if they get upset every time there is a noise (especially sudden ones), this could mean they are being overwhelmed by sound. A pair of headphones that completely cover the ears could be an amazing help to them. I really want to test the effectiveness of a pair of noise canceling headphones with access to both music and a parabolic microphone for controlling audio stimulation.
If an autistic person likes to hide in dark places, or seems reluctant to go out into the sunlight or other bright places, or they shy away from flashing lights or bright colors they may have light sensitivity. A pair of sunglasses, even indoors, can be a real help. Another idea is dimmable lights or indirect lighting. Personally, visual overstimulation is the fastest way to give me a migraine headache.
If they are drawn to the light and things that are brightly colored, they made need more visual stimulation. Bright colors or shimmering, iridescent or spinning things could be very comforting to them.
If an autistic person is constantly rubbing or scratching themselves they may need more tactile stimulation. Even more disturbing signs of the need of tactile stimulation are so-called self injurious behaviors like hitting themselves or head-banging. A sensory stimulation brush such as occupational therapist use could be very helpful. I used to love corduroy pants, embroidered patches, or those old-fashioned 3-D books that had the plastic ridges on them that I could run my fingers over. The idea here is something that is tactilely interesting that they can handle in public and still be considered appropriate. Any suggestions on this would be welcome.
 On the other hand, it is not uncommon to be overwhelmed by things like clothing touching their skin. Warning signs here are things like constantly taking off their clothes, wearing their clothes inside out or rejecting rough blankets or towels. In this case removing clothing tags and making sure the inside lining of the clothing is smooth and not scratchy can be very important. Autistic people who are sensitive to touch often say that light touches leaves an itching sensation that may last long after the touch is over. My son still likes to wear his clothing inside out as often as he get away with it.
 Another thing to watch out for here is sensitive skin. If they are constantly scratching at her skin until it's red and raw, they may be sensitive to things like the chemicals in fabric softeners or the scents in laundry soaps. I have sensitive skin and it leaves me itching nearly constantly and I have to be constantly aware of whether or not it's appropriate to scratch in public.
Smell can also be the big sensory trigger. If they are constantly burying their nose in things, they may be smelling them. In this case scented candles or Glade plugs might be useful. Conversely, they may be overwhelmed by smell. If they avoid the kitchen or rooms that have just been cleaned or any other strong smells, scents may be overwhelming to them. In this case, Frabreze becomes your friend. Sensitivities to smell can often result in an autistic person getting violently ill in the presence of a noxious smell.
The last of the primary senses is taste. Taste is a tricky one because eating is such a sensory rich activity. Eating involves smell, touch, heat, cold, visual appearance, and deep pressure as well as taste. Teasing what is taste and what is other sensory issues can be a bit difficult. To make things even more complex, taste is divided into five sensations: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and meaty (or umami).  People with autism are notoriously picky eaters. They are often so repelled by certain foods that trying to get them to eat them is like telling them to drink poison. Other times they may get so fixated on a certain food that they don’t want to eat anything else. My son would not eat anything brightly colored for many years. Personally, I can’t eat potato salad because I can’t stand texture of the smooth potatoes with crunchy bits in them. I also love sweet and salty tastes and can hardly stand bitter or sour tastes and can barely taste meaty tastes at all. Just to make things more fun, neither my son nor I can stand hot spices because the burning sensation is completely overwhelming to us.
Beyond the five primary senses, there are other senses that autistic people can be drawn to or are oversensitive to. The sense of balance and motion is one I've seen many autistic people to be drawn to. They tend to love to run, dance, or spin and never get tired of it. On the other hand people who are sensitive to motion may get easily carsick and find things like roller coasters at theme parks to be torturous. I remember that when I was a small boy, I used to spin until I got so dizzy that I fell down, over and over, and it never made me feel ill.
Another obscure sense is deep pressure. Those who are drawn to deep pressure tend to love hugs and massages in infinite amounts, while those who are sensitive to it can hardly stand more than a light touch. This particular overstimulation can lead to a major misunderstanding about an autistic person “rejecting affection,” when in actuality they just can't stand the sensation of deep pressure. There are therapies involving wearing weighted jackets and ankle and wrist weights to help with deep pressure stimulation.
The sensations of heat and cold are also senses. When I was young I could not get enough of warmth. I was forever wearing coats on warm days, never wore shorts even 100º+ weather and could not get enough of long hot showers. It drove my poor mother crazy. I haven't known anyone who's drawn to the sensation of cold, but it should be fairly obvious to spot. Just a couple of notes here, warmth and burning are completely different sensations: I love the sensation of warmth but hated the burning sensation. Also, just because you love warmth does not mean you'll hate cold and vice versa.
There might be other senses that autistic people are drawn to, but these are all I'm aware of. I would also like to remind you that these are simply examples of personal experience and other people eyes seen or read about. There are plenty of other ways in which autistic people show they are drawn to or overwhelmed by sensations. Besides this, they can also be drawn to or overwhelmed by different commendations of sensations. I mentioned that I was drawn to certain rough textures, but this was especially true when I could use them to make a sound that I could hear and could also feel the vibrations as deep pressure. For someone trying to unravel this from outside observation they can be very complex and confusing.
One last thing to note is that sensory issues can and do change over time and the methods of coping certainly change with growth. An autistic child of four may be overwhelmed by touch to the point of never wanting to wear clothes and spend much of their time spinning. The same person at fourteen may have difficulty with eating any food they consider slimy, but loves to run whenever they find room. At the age of twenty-four, the same person may love to wear light, flowing clothing and have become a professional dancer. Some sensory issues disappear over time while others become problematic seemingly out of nowhere.
In any case, sensory issues tend to be a big deal for people with autism throughout their lives. Understanding sensory issues can be key to understanding how to help an autistic person to improve grow and thrive in their environment.

John Mark McDonald

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Guest Post: Monika from Tomorrow Can Wait

Tomorrow Can Wait

“Tomorrow Can Wait” ( is a new blog which accompanies a book project: we would like to write a book about the travels with our autistic son John throughout Europe, and by doing so, also write about different perspectives on autism.

Our story is intentionally set outside our every-day routines. Dealing with bouts of aggression, sleep-deprivation, school issues, diapering and bureaucracy can make for quite a tedious day-to-day life in which we get caught up in our many tasks. Traveling puts our little family of three willfully in unknown situations. A true challenge with an autistic child, but we were and are convinced that it is possible and worthwhile, also for John. Even though – and especially because – he has problems understanding the world around him, exposing him to new landscapes, people, languages and situations offers him the ability to appreciate the spectrum of experiences that the world has to offer. And every time we announce a vacation, John is thrilled.

The title “Tomorrow can wait” refers to the fact that we surely have many worries (the ultimate one being: what happens to John when we are gone?) and difficult times ahead, but tomorrow can wait when we take a step back and let life give us new perspectives by embracing travel as an opportunity – even with a severely autistic child.

If we meet our funding goal on Kickstarter (, we will be able to self-publish the book (unless we find a publishing company) as a paperback, 6 x 9 inches, approx. 200 pages.

The Decision to Medicate, Made Easier

Parents of children with neurological conditions and disorders and mental health issues are often faced with the frightening and difficult decision of whether to medicate for specific issues and behaviors. Parents are already stressed, worried, and expecting the worst when they walk into a psychiatrist's office, and it doesn't help when they've already been through the gamut of pediatricians, psychologists and other health professionals who have an opinion on the diagnosis of mental health issues in children and the role medication should play in the treatment.

A new book by an experienced psychiatrist who specializes in treating children and adolescents has been released that will make these decisions easier on parents. Information is the key to control of a situation--the more information you have, the more control you feel, and the better your decisions will be. When Kids Need Meds: Everything a Parent Needs to Know About Psychiatric Medications and Youngsters by Dr. Henry A. Paul is a straightforward, easy to read guide to the most common mental health issues and neurological conditions in children and the medications used most often to treat these conditions and issues.

Dr. Paul is the kind of doctor we as parents all wish we were dealing with: honest, empathetic, and informative. He lays everything out in his book in an orderly fashion, discusses the most common meds, the dosages, the potential side-effects, as well as the different ways the medications may be used. He draws not only on studies of the medications effectiveness, but also on his extensive clinical experiences.

He removes the anxiety that not knowing causes parents. It's a must-have in a parent's library.

When Kids Need Meds: Everything a Parent Needs to Know About Psychiatric Medication and Youngsters

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Post: Eileen Riley-Hall

I reviewed Eileen's wonderful book recently, and I highly recommend it for parents of girls on the spectrum. --Kim 

Greetings Fellow Special Moms and Dads!

I am the very lucky mom of two amazing girls.  Lizzie is my sweet fifteen year-old who loves Broadway shows and creative writing, and who has Asperger’s.  Caroline, my energetic, smiling thirteen year-old, loves playing her purple trumpet in band, the color pink, and kicking people’s butts at MarioKart, and she has autism.

When my girls were first diagnosed ten years ago (on the same day!), I searched for a book to provide me with information and strategies to help my girls.  All I found were grim tomes telling me all the things my girls would likely never do, or books prescribing strange and scary interventions.  I promised myself if I found a way to help my girls and maintain my sanity (mostly), I would write a book for other parents of girls that encourages as much as it informs.

My book, Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum: Overcoming the Challenges and Celebrating the Gifts, was published this past March by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.  The book was inspired by my girls, and I do share some stories about their success and my mistakes.  However, it is not a memoir, but a thoroughly researched, resource book to help parents navigate school, family issues, milestones, friendships, and the emotional issues that can accompany being a special parent.  The book is full of information, comfort, and humor.  You will not find biomedical protocols in my book, just practical advice and strategies for real families.  

My girls have come so much farther than their original diagnoses predicted.  What I learned is that autism is just a part, and not a bad part, of who they are.  Like all people, my daughters are wonderfully complex human beings, with their own unique challenges, talents, and hopes.  I realize now that a diagnosis is just information, not a prophecy of a certain future. 

I am asking if you would check out my book, and if you like what you see, tell your readers about it.  There is so little written about girls and autism, and so little about autism in general that is optimistic and encouraging.  Our children are so wonderful, and autism, though challenging, in no way diminishes their worth or the amazing gifts and grace they have to offer to the world.

Thank you to all of you for the constant inspiration you provide.  

Eileen Riley-Hall, Lizzie’s and Caroline’s mom.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Behavior and Education Inc Guest Post

Blog Post :
We are applying for a small business grant to help us start an early intervention ABA clinic for children with Autism. 
Your support by "voting" for us will be Greatly Appreciated. 
250 votes are required in order to be considered for the grant.
To vote, please click on the link:
Click "Log in and Support" (use your Facebook email and password)
Search "Behavior and Education" in Redondo Beach CA (ok to leave city and state blank)
Then click "Vote".  
Thanks so much for your support!
- Behavior and Education



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